How playing nice with others helps freelancers succeed

Mar 5, 2015

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

When our parents taught us to play nice with other kids, they probably weren’t thinking about how this would help us succeed professionally one day. But it turns out that people who play nice -- or to put the idea into more professional terms, give more than they take -- are more successful than people who put themselves first.

Adam Grant, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania, found that people who give their time, knowledge, ideas, and connections to others without expecting anything in return are more successful than people who focus only on self-promotion. In 2013, Grant published a best-selling book called “Give and Take" that examines why helping others drives success.

Proof That Giving More, Taking Less Works

Giving is easy and free, and allows freelancers to build strong relationships with colleagues, prospects, and clients. By giving, we build trust and establish our credibility.

The result, over time, is landing new business. I know this because it’s happened to me—many times. I’ve helped other people since I started my freelance business in 1997. Although I never expected anything in return, some prospective clients that contacted me about freelance opportunities told me that they were referred to me by someone I had helped. If the opportunity wasn’t right for me or I was too busy to take it on, I passed it on to someone in my network whom I trusted to do a great job for the client.

5 Ways to Give More, Take Less

Always give more than you take in networking, both online and in the real world:

1. Listen more than you speak. Whether you’re talking to someone face-to-face or reading something someone wrote online (e.g., on the Freelancers Union blog or a LinkedIn group discussion), “listen” to the other person. Ask about his/her work and interests. Look for things you have in common.

2. Share relevant information and resources. Focus on providing information and resources that are helpful to fellow freelancers such as websites where the person can get more information about a specific topic, business books you recommend, and so forth.

3. Connect people. Introduce someone who wants to do a certain type of work to another person that specializes in it. Introduce clients who are looking for freelance help to freelancers who might be right for them.

4. Mentor newer freelancers. If you’re a seasoned freelancer, share what you’ve learned. It takes far less time for a veteran freelancer to share their knowledge than for a new freelancer to try to learn everything on his/her own.

5. Refer work to other freelancers. Help freelancers find work while at the same time helping clients find great freelancers who can meet their needs. But before you refer someone, be sure you know that he/she is competent and dependable.

Good Things Happen to Freelancers Who Help Others

The people you help will remember you when they have a freelance opportunity or something else that’s useful to share. It’s also easier to ask for help in the future if you’ve helped that person in the past. Of course, giving more than you take doesn’t mean you can’t also ask people to share information and resources with you. But most of your networking should focus on helping others. (And note that it’s never okay to blatantly ask someone for a referral that you don’t know well.)

If you focus only on yourself, you’ll get a reputation as a “taker” — and takers end up at the bottom of the success ladder, says Grant. So start giving, and wait for good things to come to you!